Map the Killings & Disappearances; Study 5100+ Victim Profiles

August 29, 2018 in Press

On the International Day of the Disappeared, Ensaaf invites you to view the first-of its-kind interactive data visualization site, mapping victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Punjab, India.

The interactive site compiles over 5,000 cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions perpetrated by India’s security forces, based on data collected over the past decade through survivor interviews. These cases can be viewed geospatially to observe trends across time and space, as well as through a gallery and individual victim profiles.

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Rights Groups Call on UN Expert to Intervene in Torture of British National

December 18, 2017 in Press

UN expert urged to call on India to immediately investigate alleged torture of Jagtar Singh Johal while in police custody.

Human rights organisations REDRESS and Ensaaf today have filed an urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture in the case of Jagtar Singh Johal, “Jaggi”, a British man who has been detained without charge in India since 4 November 2017.

Mr. Johal asserts that during 5 to 9 November, Indian police tortured him during interrogation by means of electric shocks to his ears, nipples, and genitals, forcing his limbs into painful positions, and forced sleep deprivation. Mr. Johal’s lawyers in India report that at a secret court hearing on 10 November, witnesses observed that Mr. Johal had severe difficulty in standing or walking, and had to be assisted by police officers as he entered and left the courtroom.

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Let the World Know about Charanjit Kaur’s 10-Year Old Son

April 24, 2017 in Press

Imagine sending your son to school one day, only for the police to gun him down. On November 14, 1989, Charanjit Kaur’s ten year old son Gurjit Singh went to school, never to return home alive.

The story of Charanjit Kaur is the story of many mothers in Punjab who saw their families destroyed during the Decade of Disappearances. Watch Charanjit Kaur’s video, as she revisits the events of that fateful day, describing in detail the killing of her young son and the effects on her family. She further shares her personal perspectives on justice and the Indian government.

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Punjab Mass Cremations Case

May 20, 2016 in Legal Advocacy

The Punjab Mass Cremations Case

The Punjab Mass Cremations Case represented a key opportunity to challenge institutionalized impunity in India.

In 1995, after human rights activists Jaswant Singh Khalra and Jaspal Singh Dhillon released official records exposing the mass secret cremations perpetrated by the Punjab Police in Amritsar district, the Committee for Information and Initiative on Punjab (CIIP) moved the Supreme Court to demand a comprehensive inquiry into unlawful killings throughout Punjab. After Punjab Police abducted and murdered Jaswant Singh Khalra, the Supreme Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India's premier investigative agency, to investigate these crimes.

In December 1996, the Supreme Court referred the matter of secret cremations to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), observing that the CBI's inquiry report disclosed "flagrant violations of human rights on a mass scale." The December 1996 report by the CBI showed 2,097 illegal cremations at three cremation grounds in Amritsar district. However, this number does not accurately represent the total number of individuals illegally cremated in Amritsar. Interviews with cremation ground workers disclosed that multiple people were often cremated with the firewood normally required for completely burning one body, and Khalra himself discussed over 6,000 cremations in Amritsar district.

The Supreme Court appointed the NHRC as its sui generis body, with the powers of the Supreme Court under Article 32 to redress fundamental violations of human rights, in the Punjab mass cremations case. However, over the entirety of the proceedings before the NHRC, the Commission has failed to apply Indian or international human rights standards to investigate and provide reparations for these abuses.

The Commission's major failings in the Punjab mass cremations litigation include:

  • Territorially restricting its mandate to three crematoria in Amritsar district, ignoring disappearances, unlawful killings, and illegal cremations throughout Punjab;
  • Limiting its mandate to the narrow issue of the procedural correctness of the cremations, ignoring the violations of the rights to life and liberty;
  • Refusing to investigate a single cremation, and thus never hearing any evidence from survivor families;
  • Basing its findings on information provided by the Punjab Police, the perpetrators of the crimes;
  • Refusing to hold any officials accountable for the violations, repeatedly stating in its orders: "[W]e are not expressing any opinion about the culpability or otherwise of any police officer or officials, nor shall we be understood to have expressed any opinion about the responsibility of any of the officials of the state for the unlawful and unceremonious cremations of the deceased, without following the rules, conventions and the humanitarian law;"
  • Rejecting briefs and reports by international groups, providing relevant evidence. In its October 10, 2006 order, the Commission attacked the credibility and report of Physicians for Human Rights and Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture.

In its October 9, 2006 order, the NHRC compensated the next of kin of 1,051 individuals for the wrongful cremation of their loved ones, where the Punjab Police did not follow the rules for proper cremations, and 194 individuals for the violation of the right to life, where the Punjab Police admitted custody prior to death but did not admit liability for the unlawful killing. It also appointed retired Punjab and Haryana High Court Justice K.S. Bhalla as a commissioner for conducting an inquiry in Amritsar ("Bhalla Commission" or "Amritsar Commission of Inquiry") to identify the remaining cremation victims from the CBI list under its consideration, if possible, within eight months.

The Amritsar Commission submitted its final report in mid-2007. The NHRC responded to the report in its March 2008 order, creating another sub-commission.

The Supreme Court retains seisin over the Punjab mass cremations case, and its ultimate resolution will occur there.

Report Abuse. Expose the Facts

December 10, 2015 in Press

https://ReportPunjabPolice.org

(Amritsar, Chandigarh, California) On Human Rights Day, 10 December, Khalra Mission Organisation, the Punjab Human Rights Organisation, and Ensaaf release a new web-based human rights tool to help empower victims of government abuse to report their experiences at ReportPunjabPolice.org.

We request anyone with information on human rights violations to use this tool to document abuses perpetrated by security forces in Punjab. The data collected through ReportPunjabPolice.org, in Punjabi or English, will shine a spotlight on the officials and institutions that violate human rights.

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No Stone Unturned: 25 Years of Contesting Impunity

June 30, 2013 in Reports

No Stone Unturned:

25 Years of Contesting Impunity

Learn more about Kuljit Singh Dhatt and his family's fight for justice through videos, a photo essay, and an interactive timeline.

Introduction

Kuljit Singh Dhatt, son of Sadhu Singh, lived in Ambala Jattan, Hoshiarpur. He was married to Gurmeet Kaur and had three kids. His brothers’ mother-in-law was Parkash Kaur, the sister of Indian independence hero Bhagat Singh. Kuljit Singh was the director of Bhogpur Sugar Mill and had served as sarpanch of village Ambala Jattan since 1978. He was also a member of the governing council of the Khalsa College and the Khalsa Senior Secondary School, Gardiwala. Gurmeet Kaur reflected on her husband, during her interview with Ensaaf: “I remember once, while studying, my daughter received 99% marks....He took the card from our daughter and rushed after me saying, ‘Look what great marks my daughter earned!’ He was a happy person. I feel that loss very much now. On the day my daughter came home after completing her MBBS [medical degree],…I remember how happy he would have been if he had been there that day.”

Abduction, Torture & Custodial Killing

On July 23, 1989, around 8:30 a.m., Punjab policemen, led by then Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Ajit Singh Sandhu, abducted Kuljit Singh Dhatt, Gurmel Singh, Surjit Singh, and other individuals from Gurmel Singh’s house in village Garhi. The police party also included Station House Officer (SHO) Jaspal Singh of Dasuya, SHO Sardool Singh of Tanda, and Sub-Inspector Sita Ram, in charge of the police post in Gardiwala. Kuljit Singh had stopped at Gurmel Singh’s house, while on the way to the Bhogpur Sugar Mill, with Piara Singh. Police placed Kuljit Singh and Davinder Singh in one car, and other detainees in a second car. At Dasuya police station, the police detained Kuljit Singh and Davinder Singh in one room together. As eyewitness Surjit Singh recounted to Ensaaf, “They tortured Kuljit Singh and Davinder Singh. We could hear the sounds of their cries and screams…From that day until now, we have not seen Kuljit.” The police later released Gurmel Singh and the others in the evening, but did not release Kuljit Singh.

“They tortured Kuljit Singh and Davinder Singh. We could hear the sounds of their cries and screams…From that day until now, we have not seen Kuljit.” - Surjit Singh, eyewitness.

After witnessing the illegal abduction, Piara Singh informed Harbhajan Singh Dhatt, Kuljit Singh’s older brother, about the abduction. Harbhajan Singh then approached the local police stations with family and friends, seeking his brother’s release. Harbhajan Singh Dhatt told Ensaaf that, on July 23, 1989, at police station Gardiwala, DSP Ajit Sandhu told him, “We have let the rest go. We have done with Kuljit Singh, what we wanted to do.” Sandhu further stated to Harbhajan Singh, “We aren’t going to return the body. Do what you want.” When the family turned to Superintendent of Police (Operations) (SP(O)) SPS Basra, Basra said, “Did you not understand what Ajit Singh said?” The police repeated these admissions to Harbhajan Singh at a subsequent meeting on July 29.

Ajit Singh Sandhu told Harbhajan Singh, “We aren’t going to return the body. Do what you want.”

Fabrication of an Escape

At this point, the police give two versions of events. In one version, recorded in First Information Report (FIR) No. 78, a police constable began digging in the sand for the weapons, but then Kuljit Singh ripped away his handcuffs, which were linked to the belt of a different constable, and, while still handcuffed, jumped into the river and escaped. In the second version, stated in affidavits submitted before the Supreme Court by police officers DSP Ajit Sandhu and SI Sita Ram (dated Nov. 4, 1989), Kuljit Singh himself started digging in the sand while handcuffed, and then ripped his handcuffs from the belt of a policeman and disappeared into the river.

The family and courts pointed out clear holes in the police version. For example, despite having around a week between the statements given by witnesses about Iqbal Singh’s murder and Kuljit Singh’s alleged arrest, the police officers made no attempt to apprehend any of the accused, including Kuljit Singh. Nor did the police obtain any warrants. “Picking him up the way that they did,” Harbhajan Singh told Ensaaf, “made no sense. He was an elected leader of the village, who lived in the area. It’s not like he was on the run. They should have summoned him according to legal procedures.” After his abduction, the police failed to produce him before any court. The policeman in charge, DSP Ajit Sandhu, never held any official responsible for the escape of Kuljit Singh from police custody. Harbhajan Singh expressed incredulity, “Even if we take their version of the story, why didn’t he run when he knew the police was coming [at the time of arrest]. The [police] said he didn’t try to escape then…Then when he was in custody, there were 10 police officers and he’s handcuffed. How can he break his handcuffs and escape? Why would he jump in the river? If he didn’t run from here [home], why would he run while he’s already in custody?”

"He was an elected leader of the village, who lived in the area. It’s not like he was on the run. They should have summoned him according to legal procedures.”- Harbhajan Singh, brother of Kuljit Singh Dhatt

The judicial commission report, discussed below, and forensics analysis later demonstrated that the police had overwritten and cut out sections of police records in order to support their fabricated story. For example, in the sheet attached to FIR No. 143 of July 19, 1989, regarding the murder of Iqbal Singh, the dates of certain records were changed from September 12 and September 17, 1989 to July 26 and July 27, 1989, to correspond with the dates of Kuljit Singh’s alleged arrest and escape. Further, among other differences noted, the Daily Diary Reports had no information on the loss of the handcuffs or chain, the number of the handcuff key, or the failure to deposit the key, as required by police regulations.

Perpetrators

The police officials accused of abducting, torturing, and killing Kuljit Singh Dhatt included then DSP Ajit Singh Sandhu, SHO Jaspal Singh, SHO Sardool Singh, SI Sita Ram, and SP(O) SPS Basra. Two of these police officials were implicated in the abduction, torture, and murder of human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra, six years later in fall 1995. By then SSP, Ajit S. Sandhu allegedly committed suicide before standing trial in either case. Jaspal Singh was convicted in the Khalra case in 2005.

In their filings before the Supreme Court, the Dhatt family attached a judgment against Ajit Sandhu, demonstrating a prior conviction for handcuffing a police officer, and an anticipatory bail application in an assault case. They also included affidavits by family members who attributed their loved one’s disappearance to SHO Sardool Singh and DSP Sandhu.

The judicial commission report and forensics analysis demonstrated that the police had fabricated records.

Supreme Court Petition & Randev Commission

On September 11, 1989, after appeals to government officials fell on deaf ears, Parkash Kaur and Gurmeet Kaur filed a habeas corpus petition with the Supreme Court, calling for an inquiry by a "high judicial authority" and the suspension of the accused police officers till after the inquiry report was submitted. On March 30, 1990, the Supreme Court ordered the Punjab & Haryana High Court to appoint a retired Sessions Judge as a Commissioner of the Supreme Court, charged with conducting an inquiry into Dhatt’s disappearance. The Supreme Court ordered the Commission to complete its inquiry in three months.

It was almost two years before the Commission, led by Justice H.L. Randev, could begin its inquiry. At the first hearing, the Dhatt family recounted instances of police harassment and the Commissioner requested the transfer of the police officials to non-operational posts outside of the district. The petitioners had described how the accused police officials were threatening their lives if they did not withdraw from the inquiry. The police contested this issue repeatedly before the Commission—taking 35 hearings in eight months, according to a January 1991 affidavit filed by Harbhajan Singh—and then before the Supreme Court. In November 1991, the Supreme Court directed the Commission to proceed after the Additional Solicitor General reported that the accused officers had been transferred, although to operational posts. The Commission began collecting evidence in January 1992.

In October 1993, Justice H.L. Randev submitted his report, implicating five police officials in the unlawful killing of Kuljit Singh Dhatt: namely Ajit S. Sandhu (who committed suicide in 1997, after serving as Senior Superintendent of Police), Jaspal Singh (in life imprisonment for murdering human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra), Sardool Singh (who died in 2008), SPS Basra (who retired in late 2013 as Deputy Inspector General), and Sita Ram.

Police Investigation

Based on the Commission’s report, the Supreme Court issued notice to police officials Sardool Singh and Jaspal Singh, received objections from all of the accused, and accepted rejoinder affidavits from the petitioners. In January 1996, the state of Punjab submitted an FIR to the Court, but the Supreme Court found it unsatisfactory because it only contained minimal information about Kuljit Singh being missing. In its order of April 26, the Court stated: “It appears to us that the State Government has not responded to the gravity of the situation, despite the observations made by us in our order dated 3.4.1996. We, accordingly, in the facts and circumstances of the case prima facie accept the findings of the Commission and direct the State Government to register a case against the five police officials named by Randev Commission of Inquiry for various offences…in the report of the Commission. The investigation into the case shall be conducted by an official not below the rank of Deputy Inspector General of Police.”

In May 1996, the state of Punjab informed the Supreme Court that another First Information Report, No. 81, dated May 5, 1996, had been registered and the investigation entrusted to DIG JP Birdi. The three officers still in service, SPS Basra, Ajit S. Sandhu, and Jaspal Singh, had been suspended. Sita Ram was in judicial custody for another case, and Sardool Singh had retired.

On November 29, 1996, Harbhajan Singh Dhatt, the elder brother of Kuljit Singh Dhatt, informed the Supreme Court in an affidavit that the DIG’s chargesheet did not include the charge of Section 364 (kidnapping or abducting with intent to murder) from the Indian Penal Code, whereas the FIR had been registered under that section. Instead, the chargesheet had the lesser charge of Section 365 (kidnapping or abducting with intent to secretly and wrongfully confine the person), which carried a maximum sentence of seven years compared to the maximum sentence of life imprisonment under Section 364. Further, the family pointed out that the DIG had failed to identify additional accused. In response, in August 1997, the family filed an application under Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code for summoning additional accused. The sessions court allowed the summoning of the accused, but the accused appealed to the High Court and the application has since been stayed there.

The DIG failed to question any of the accused police officers or members of the alleged police team that went for recovery of weapons, and thus conducted an incomplete and partial investigation.

Prolonged Litigation

The Supreme Court ordered the registration of a case in 1996, and the five police officials named in Randev’s report were arrested, but later released on bail. The Punjab government granted prosecution sanction. In April 1998, the Additional Sessions Judge, Hoshiarpur, framed charges against the accused under Section 364 (kidnapping or abducting in order to murder), 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 466 (forgery of record of Court or of public register), 218 (public servant fabricating record to save person from punishment) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence or giving false information to screen offender) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Before witnesses could begin their testimony, on April 15, 1998, the accused appealed the sanction, stating that Punjab had been under the Punjab Disturbed Areas Act, and only the Central government could grant sanction, not the Punjab state government, in order for a trial to proceed against the police officers. Under the law, however, sanction was not needed by either government, since the police officials committed crimes that were not recognized as part of their official duties. Nevertheless, the High Court stayed the trial for 14 years, ultimately ruling that the trial could move forward.

The High Court stayed the trial for 14 years.

After the witnesses completed their testimony in March 2014, the judge who heard their testimony was transferred from the case in April 2014. A new judge then heard the oral arguments and gave her judgment on May 9, 2014.

Harassment of Witnesses

The police harassed family members, their supporters, eyewitnesses, and people who worked for the family.

Throughout the case, the police harassed family members, their supporters, eyewitnesses, and people who worked for the family, according to Gurmeet Kaur and Harbhajan Singh. Gurmeet Kaur told Ensaaf how the police blocked roads leading to the house during Kuljit Singh’s religious last rites. The police also registered false criminal cases against Harbhajan Singh Dhatt. The Commission and the police spent almost two years litigating the issue of police transfers, ordered by the Commissioner because of family affidavits describing police harassment.

On January 12, 1993, the police illegally detained Harbahaj Singh Dhatt. As a massive protest began outside the police station, the police could not move anyone inside or outside of the police station, and later released Dhatt.

The threats continued even during the investigation ordered by the Supreme Court, starting in 1996. Gurmeet Kaur submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court in September 1996, including affidavits by two eyewitnesses, stating that the police had threatened them with “dire consequences” and they had informed the Investigating Officer “to no avail.”

In January 1997, Harbhajan Singh Dhatt filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court to place on record developments after its December 16, 1996 order. In the affidavit, he mentioned anonymous calls made to himself and Gurmeet Kaur threatening them with the same fate meted out to Kuljit Singh if they continued to pursue this case. He recounted how on January 10, when the accused were to appear in the Court of the Sub-Judge in Dasuya, Ajit Singh Sandhu openly threatened Harbhajan Singh Dhatt with dire consequences if he continued to pursue the case. Ajit Singh further blocked the entrance to the Court till the Sub-Judge intervened.

In his trial testimony, eyewitness Gurmel Singh stated that SI Sita Ram came to him while he was at the civil courts handling personal work. Sita Ram intimidated Gurmel Singh into signing blank papers and left. He denied the contents of affidavits produced before him during cross-examination, saying he did not know the attorneys who attested them and repeated that SI Sita Ram had procured his signature on blank papers.

Trial & Conviction

After almost 25 years, the Sessions Judge convicted the three living police officials of abduction with intent to murder Kuljit Singh Dhatt.

During the trial, the petitioners presented 18 witnesses and the defense presentedone witness. On May 9, 2014, after almost 25 years, Additional Sessions Judge of Hoshiarpur Poonam R. Joshi convicted the three living police officers of abduction with intent to murder Kuljit Singh Dhatt. Additional Sessions Judge Joshi convicted SPS Basra, Jaspal Singh, and Sita Ram under sections 364 (kidnapping or abducting in order to murder), 120-B (criminal coanspiracy) and 218 (public servant fabricating record to save person from punishment) of the Indian Penal Code. She acquitted them under Sections 466 and 201 of the IPC, however.

Four hours after announcing her verdict, the judge issued a disappointing ruling on their sentences. Their convictions carry concurrent sentences of five years, three years and two years, plus a fine. The Dhatt family has appealed the sentences. The Dhatt family is also pursuing two related cases to bring other accused to trial and enhance the charge against all of the accused to IPC 302 (murder).

Kulvir Singh Barapind

July 11, 2012 in UN

Kulvir Singh Barapind

Adopted in December 1984, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), prohibits nations from extraditing individuals who are more likely than not to be tortured upon return. Ensaaf pursued the commitments promised in the Convention on behalf of Kulvir Singh Barapind.

In the early 1990s, Kulvir Singh Barapind was a senior member of the Sikh Students Federation, a political group advocating for a separate Sikh state, serving in several leadership positions from local president to national joint secretary. Indian security forces severely tortured Barapind, claiming he was responsible for 11 incidents of militancy including attempted murder and robbery. Acts of torture included suspending him in the air from his wrists with his arms tied behind his back, crushing his thigh muscles with a wooden log, tearing his legs apart at his waist to a 180-degree angle, applying electric shocks, and beating him on the soles of his feet. Indian security forces also tortured Barapind's family and friends in their efforts to apprehend him.

After Barapind fled to the US in 1993, the Indian government requested that the US government extradite Barapind in 1997. Although the Eastern District Court of California found that Indian officials used torture, threats to life, and fabrication of evidence to support the extradition request, in November 2005, Judge Wagner certified Barapind’s extradition to India for three out of the original 11 cases.

Two weeks later, Ensaaf submitted an application for Barapind’s relief to the US Secretary of State, under the CAT, containing a detailed brief with 17 exhibits, including 11 affidavits. Ensaaf also secured the involvement of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Question of Torture, as well as the involvement of Congressman Chris Smith and his Professional Staff Sheri Rickert at the House Subcommittee on Global Human Rights. Further, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) also submitted an amicus letter regarding US international and domestic obligations.

Despite the strong supporting evidence, the US government denied Barapind’s application and extradited him to India on June 17, 2006. Ensaaf was able to secure a commitment from the US government to monitor the treatment of Barapind and act on any information of abuse. In addition, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Indian government to ensure that its security forces did not torture or mistreat Barapind.

Update: Barapind was acquitted of all charges and released from detention in April 2008.

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Punjab Police: Fabricating Terrorism through Illegal Detention and Torture

July 3, 2012 in Reports

Punjab Police: Fabricating Terrorism through Illegal Detention and Torture

June 2005 to August 2005

October 5, 2005

Punjab Police: Fabricating Terrorism Through Illegal Detention and Torture

(San Francisco, CA, October 5, 2005) Ensaaf today released its report, Punjab Police: Fabricating Terrorism through Illegal Detention and Torture (June 2005 to August 2005). This report details human rights violations committed by Indian security forces in recent militancy-related arrests. From June 2005 to August 2005, Indian police claim to have arrested several dozen individuals intent on reviving or supporting militancy in Punjab. These arrests center around the apprehension of Jagtar Singh Hawara, the main accused in the 1995 assassination of Punjab's chief minister.

Indian security forces routinely resorted to illegal and incommunicado detention. Further, the Punjab police frequently tortured the detainees.

In August and September 2005, Ensaaf documented 28 cases of detention of Punjabis accused of militancy-related activities. Its study reveals that, in contravention of international and domestic laws, Indian security forces routinely resorted to illegal and incommunicado detention. Further, the Punjab police frequently tortured the detainees. Torture methods included electric shocks, tearing the legs apart at the waist and causing pelvic and muscle injury, and pulling out the hair and beard of the detainees, among other techniques. The police also threatened and detained immediate family members of the targeted individual.

“The majority of detainees whose experiences are discussed in this report remain in the custody of Indian security forces and continue to be at risk of illegal detention and torture, among other custodial abuses,” said Ensaaf's Executive Director, Jaskaran Kaur. “Government officials have not publicly acknowledged, investigated, or redressed the violations,” she said.

The Indian police have constructed and presented elaborate stories of thwarted militant crimes, recovered weapons, captured human bombs, and the discovery of an international network to revive militancy in Punjab. These stories have concealed the escalation in human rights abuses committed in the name of national security and indicate that police fabricated evidence to support criminal charges. Because of conflicting reports between the government and families of detainees regarding dates and circumstances of arrest and detention, these cases should be investigated immediately by an impartial body.

Read the Report